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NZ court rejects jailed Singaporean drug trafficker's laptop request

NZ court rejects jailed Singaporean drug trafficker's laptop request

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 05 Oct 2020
Author: K.C. Vijayan

Thomas Cheng, who was jailed in New Zealand in 2018, sought to have a laptop in his cell, claiming a computer provided in the cell was "inadequate for the litigation".

A New Zealand court has dismissed a jailed Singaporean drug trafficker's application to have a personal laptop in his cell and allowed audio-visual connections to Singapore and the Philippines as well as international phone calls at modest charges.

Justice Mathew Downs, in updated decision grounds published last month, described the prisoner, Thomas Cheng, as "polite, smart and highly intelligent".

The case arose after Cheng filed 22 claims for judicial review against New Zealand's Department of Corrections and sought interim relief for additional items pending a full hearing.

"Cheng has adequate facilities to prepare his cases, at least for now. He has been placed in a large cell to house his many boxes of legal documents. He can use the computer in that cell to print documents, which are then brought to him. He has printed many. One evening, he printed 4,000," said the judge.

The prisoner claimed the computer in the cell was "inadequate for the litigation".

He said the computer did not recognise Word documents (it uses open-source software) and did not have a Web browser, but the judge, in refusing his application, noted that his case was not one in which he was representing himself. He has a defence lawyer.

"Cheng's related claims for judicial review do not appear strong. Laptops are no longer 'authorised electrical items'. So, Cheng does not have a right to a laptop in his cell," said the judge.

Although Cheng "is a long way from home", he is not prevented from exercising contact with those abroad as he has a telephone in his cell.

"He may use this when he likes, including to call family overseas, provided he pays. (Department of) Corrections has not been deaf to Cheng's requests for audio-visual links. Unlike Corrections - I am poorly placed to assess security concerns in relation to Cheng that may affect what is sought. Cheng is not merely a sentenced prisoner; he also faces criminal charges concerning alleged offending within prison, offending said to have been facilitated by technology," said the judge.

In 2018, Cheng, who was then 34, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years and nine months in jail for importing and supplying methamphetamine.

But, in May last year, he faced 26 new criminal charges alleging that he dealt in drugs, committed aggravated robbery and participated in an organised criminal enterprise.

The alleged offending occurred between March 1, 2018 and May 9 last year while Cheng was still in prison, noted the judge.

"Interim relief is not necessary to preserve Cheng's position; merits do not appear strong; and relevant security concerns lie more in the Executive's province," said Justice Downs.

Another New Zealand court, in July this year, extended a restraining order until the end of this month on 15 named properties in the country and bank accounts that were linked to Cheng and two others.

The New Zealand Police Commissioner sought the freeze order as investigations continued as a result of Cheng's drug offending and monies linked to suspected tax evasion and money laundering.

"The Commissioner reached the view that Mr Thomas Cheng as well as his father, Mr William Cheng, and his father's partner, Ms Nyioh Chew Hong (the former being the first interested party and the latter being the second interested party), had benefited from tax evasion and money laundering. Further restraining orders were obtained as a consequence," noted the court then.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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